Back in the Groove

Lethargy… disinterest… other things to do… a sense of anti-climax following relegation, maybe it’s a mixture of all of those. After relegation, do we want season tickets again I asked? Yes, said Mrs T. Of course I knew I’d get them plus a new kit for Master Joe. He’s too big now to call him Little Joe.

As Burnley’s pre-season games had been taking place we’d been pootling about the country doing our own pre-season tour. We were in Dorset and my mouth had dropped open when they lost at Accrington. Ah but that’s Ok said the faithful, it’s only pre-season, it’s all about fitness and giving them all a game. But come on I thought, losing at Accrington, pre-season or not, I doubt losing was on SD’s agenda.

I was actually walking along the beach at West Bay (pictured above) munching a pie. There was a food festival going on, and there was this pie stall so it seemed rude not to try the pork and cider. West Bay might be better known as Bridport Harbour. They did the TV series Broadstairs round there and it was only a few miles from Beominster where we were staying.

You can’t get away from Burnley fans and the builder doing some work on the sister-in-law’s house was good pals with someone who had no connection whatsoever with Burnley other than having adopted them as his team years ago.

Beominster, about as far away from racing pigeons, whippets and ferrets as you can get, sits in this little, secluded, almost hidden, saucer-shaped hollow amongst the rolling tree-covered hills, just inland a few miles; the perfect little village with a greengrocer, butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker and wonder of wonders a great little restaurant that does Sunday dinners for just £5 with as much as you can heap on the plate. And the best news – it does these Sunday dinners every day of the week, with a pudding for just £2. Shame it’s 240 miles from home.

Bloody hell, I said to Mrs T, if I lived there I’d never cook again. She looked at me with one of those withering looks that only women do so well. HA, you never cook anyway, she said to which I had no real answer.

Lose at Accy Stanley and win at Glasgow Rangers, work that one out I thought, while we were still down there and had a day out at Montacute House; an amazing Tudor pile where a couple of Tudor wannabees were dressed up in all the gear riding up and down a mock tournament arena knocking tin hats off the tops of tall poles and slicing cabbages in half whilst they galloped at speed past them.

A nice Arfield goal decided the game with reports saying that after a dodgy start, by the end of the game Burnley were in control. On account of being in Dorset we sadly missed the Supporters Club trip up there with a stay in a seaside hotel at Ayr. A crowd of 22,000+ saw this game.

From Dorset it was on to Hampshire to visit Mrs T’s other sister and whilst there off they go to Chesterfield and lose. Now call me old fashioned but it did occur to me that if you are winning 2-0 you should really be able to hold on to that against a lower league side and go on to win the game. But then I remembered they’d had plenty of practice at establishing 2-0 leads last season – and then losing. Reports said that they played super stuff for much of the first half and then vanished in the second and lost 3-2.  But: it was no doubt in this game that the decision was made to snap up the Chesterfield right-back Tendayi Darikwa.  

By now, of course, Shackell had gone. Tripps and Ings went early on in the summer as we knew they would with our blessings, but the Shackell saga dragged on and on. Sean D was eventually quite explicit about this one, that Shackell was no longer interested in playing for Burnley. We all know that Derby were after him right from the word go, so using the smokescreen that he was injured, Shackell did not appear in any pre-season game.

‘Injured?’ yeh, right, pull the other one we all thought, this only has one ending. He is going. SD explained that Shackell had made it clear he wanted to go, fresh challenge and all that. Credit to Burnley, they held out for a decent fee, £3miilion allegedly and weeks after it started it ended to everyone’s satisfaction. If we were sorry to see Ings and Trippier go I can’t say I felt the same sentiment with the departure of Shackell. There never ever seemed that connection between him and the crowd that you got with the other two, particularly Trippier. And whilst they will be remembered with genuine affection and fondness and we will follow their careers, Shackell always seemed to be the classic modern footballer, his current club wherever it may be a job of work and a pay cheque, albeit done professionally and with commitment.  I always had this image in my head of him arriving at training in a bowler hat, pin striped suit, with a brief case and a rolled up umbrella. Unlike the other two, emotion was seldom on display save for the occasion of THAT goal at Blackburn in the promotion season. So: for promotion and that goal alone he will be remembered with gratitude.  

Saturday August 1: Bradford City and the Duff testimonial. By this time there had been all kinds of news. Heaton, Jones and Arfield had all signed new contract extensions. The new office block extensions along Harry Potts Way were proceeding at full speed. Planning permission for the new facilities at Gawthorpe had been approved, although if I understand it right, Government approval is still needed because of the conservation issues with all manner of objections from various eco groups and institutions worried that flora and fauna will be trampled underfoot.

And then there were all the new players: in came Vossen from Belgium, Lowton from Villa, Long from Everton and Tendayi Darikwa from Chesterfield. And that wasn’t all. In a seismic policy shift it was clear that new recruitment guy Frank McParland was working overtime to bring good youth players from the lower league clubs and actually pay for them. Wimbledon’s scoring sensation Daniel Agyei arrived for a fee having banged in a shedload of goals for Wimbledon’s youth teams last season. Shrewsbury Town player Josh Ginnelly will arrive presumably after the fee is decided by a tribunal. The Darikwa signing whilst not quite fitting the ‘youth’ bracket was certainly a bold splash in the lower league market. Money from Trippier, Ings and Shackell has presumably made all this possible.

Notwithstanding the defeats at Stanley and Chesterfield the messageboards were buzzing, awash with positivism other than one thing – the tiresome Lansbury saga. Burnley are throwing their weight around, said the Forest manager Freedman when another bid or story of a bid, plopped on his desk. Little Burnley throwing their weight around… since when have Burnley been a heavyweight? But the Lansbury saga is now boring. Last summer bids failed, in January bids failed and now it starts all over again. For gawd’s sake, if you really want the guy, make a bid that will secure him. The latest alleged bid was £4million with ace hack Alan Nixon stoking the fires. Who knows what might have happened last season if the club had signed the players they really wanted for fees higher than they were prepared to bid.

Food for thought: how much is being spent on upgrading infrastructure at Turf Moor and at the Gawthorpe training ground? £15million might be a fair guess. Just suppose they’d gone for gold in the summer last year and signed Deeney for £10million or even £12million of that? It’s all water under the bridge now so forgive me, I’m only asking.

Prior to the Bradford game, in midweek Burnley had won 2-0 at Fleetwood in a display that was well-drilled and solid reports said. There was a repeat score against Bradford City, the first game for me and Mrs T. During the week we’d had a few days in Morecambe. Yeh I know, somebody has to go there. It’s something of a sad place now but what a resort it used to be in the 50s and 60s before people started jetting off on packages to sunnier Mediterranean climes. I can remember as a kid seeing the illuminations, the fairground, huge swimming pool, crowded promenades, the Winter Gardens and packed hotels. In the late forties Burnley sometimes took the players there for a bracing fresh air pick-me-up before big games. And by gum it is bracing as it whistles across the bay. This is not the place to wear a toupee.

Across the bay is Grange over Sands, a sort of small Harrogate by the sea. The train hugs the shoreline and eventually ends at Barrow. People actually go there I believe.

Midweek Morecambe sunshine was replaced on Saturday by cold and rain in Burnley, just what you needed for Duff’s testimonial. In August it’s not unreasonable to expect warm sun and blue sky for the first home game of the season. Taller floodlights are planned for the Turf; if they fitted them with yellow bulbs we could pretend we play in sunshine every game. The word dreary was an understatement and the poor weather might have been one reason why fewer than 5,000 turned out for what turned out to be a thoroughly entertaining and competitive game.

We’ve seen some stunning goals in our time at Turf Moor over the years and some cracking free kicks, but Taylor’s free-kick goal in this game was up there with the very best. From 25 yards he cracked it home like a missile. I’ve always thought you could pick several of Robbie Blake’s free-kicks as the perfect strike. But this one of Taylor’s was absolutely faultless. Memories of the penalty miss against Leicester came back. Football is cruel. This was a free kick worthy of winning a game far more important than this against Bradford.

There is the tale that that years ago, canny old manager Alec Stock used to sit his players down each pre-season and one by one he’d tell them how many goals he expected them to score that season. I reckon from Taylor he’d have demanded 12. Each season Dyche has told his players to step up and fill the gaps left by departing players. He’s got a bit of a problem now I should think; until Darikwa’s debut today we could be forgiven for assuming that Lowton would be first choice to step into Trippier’s shoes. But what a debut from Darikwa just signed from Chesterfield.

The new Bertie Bee made a fairly quiet debut. You may or may not have noticed that this one was taller and leaner than last season’s. Braddy after 15 years in the job reluctantly decided to call it a day and the swagger seems to have gone with him. The upending of the streaker some years ago is still vivid in the memory. And who will forget when he was once sent off, not that long ago, by the referee for indicating he needed to go to Specsavers and was locked up in the slammer.

With Lowton injured, in came Darikwa who was simply outstanding, best player by far on the pitch. It shows what we all think, that in the lower leagues there are indeed terrific bargains to be found and at last Burnley have grabbed one. Surely there must be others to plug the midfield gaps that still exist with Marney and now Ulvestad injured. The latter is combative just like Marney and it was a determined Marneyesque tackle that resulted in him being stretchered to the dressing rooms.    

Bradford were neat and tidy and might have scored a couple but for a stunning Heaton save and the crossbar. But it was clear they needed a decent striker.  Burnley might have had far more than the two they did score.  It was another well-drilled and methodical display but Bradford found holes in the defence more than once. At the other end only the Bradford keepers kept the score down on several occasions.

Michael Duff deserved more than the under-5000 attendance for the service he has given but over the years it’s a crowd that is par for the course for a home pre-season friendly. It was a game in which he showed no signs of losing his touch or his reading of a game at the ripe old age of 37. His list of achievements and promotions is magnificent. Steve Cotterill found a gem when he brought him to the club.

So: back in the groove, a home game followed by a pub meal at the Kettledrum, or the Queen or the Stubbing Wharfe. The season is back. This time two years ago you could have been forgiven for thinking a grim season lay ahead and on they went and won promotion in a super season. It is for that reason surely most of us have stopped making predictions.

But go on then: top six seems a reasonable bet.